Bench Press Technique for the beginner lifter

(This post is written as a follow up to the women at Ohio State University’s Buckeye BarBELLES club. I visited them last weekend for a strength clinic. While this is written directly to them, this applies to all beginner and even some intermediate lifters. Read carefully and diagnose your bench press


Ok, ladies, FABULOUS weekend at the Ohio State Buckeye BarBELLES clinic. I am honored to be a part of this as you all begin your strength journey.

To recap, here are a few major things we talked about over the course of the session

  • Technical issues
  • Physical issues (weakness)

(Note: mental blocks can be an issue as well. Some of you are absolutely capable of crushing the weights we worked up to.. you just need to find that inner animal.)

Technical Issues

1. Grip width – Among all the beginner and early intermediate lifters I’ve coached and worked with, none of them have the most optimal grip width for their body. Most of the you were using a grip that was too narrow. Especially the thinner, lankier girls with longer arms. Most of you were using a grip that was about a thumbs distance away from the smooth knurling line, which is a good start. But if you remember, we moved most of your grips out. Some just a half an inch wider and many of you were moved so that your pinkies are now on the power ring. Again, this was all dependent on your body type, structure, limb length and where you seemed to be strongest.

2. Lat tightness – This is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp. Most people just bring the bar down to their chest and press up without much regard to anything else. To understand this concept, we talked about “breaking the bar”:

  • Put your arms out in front of you as if you were benching
  • Pretend you are holding a broomstick or a pipe in your hands
  • Now attempt to break the pipe and feel what just happened to your lats

Being able to do that while benching takes practice, but at least now you can take notice of if you can keep your lats tight or not.


3. Leg drive – Most of you had ZERO leg drive. I was impressed that you were all taught to have your feet tucked back (at least a little) to get in a good arched position. If you remember, we talked about the difference between having your feet tucked for a better arch and shorter bar path, or having feet flat or slightly out for more leg drive.

If your feet are tucked back, what was the major thing we kept coaching you on?

That’s right – heels down. The more you push your heels toward the floor, the tighter your entire body will be, the more drive you’ll get from the floor and the more your chest will stay up.

Continue to experiment with what works best as you get stronger.

Physical issues (weaknesses)

1. Lats – This was a HUGE issue with every single one of you. We could tell as you were moving the bar up and down that you had very little lat engagement which was causing you to be loosey goosey. Train your back twice as much (and just as hard, if not harder) than you train your press. Remember, lat strength is key for benching, squatting and deadlifting.

2. Triceps – We didn’t touch on this as much, but part of the reason that the bar kept going back over your face is because most of you have stronger shoulders than triceps. Ideally, the bar path should remain over the chest, touching right near the sports bra line and finishing just over the chest (not over your face). If your triceps get stronger, you’ll be able to press more, keep the bar in the right path and hold the bar over your chest, not over your face.


What we notice here is that many of the technical issues are an overlap with the physical issues. Is your technique off because your strength isn’t there yet?  Or is your strength not there yet because your technique is off?  (READ THAT AGAIN… no really… read it again.)

It’s hard to say which came first in this instance, the chicken or the egg. But what we do know is that if we continually hammer the strength issues we discussed, then your technique should come around. And if you keep working on the technical issues, your strength will skyrocket.

And finally, work on one thing at a time. Trying to master everything at once causes information overload and ultimately, frustration.

Stay on the path. Seek out those that are stronger than you and help those that are not.

About Julia Ladewski

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